As we practice social distancing and self-isolation to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, I hope many of you are taking some of this time to reflect on where we are as the Church and what we can learn from this time as we proceed headlong into our “new normal.” Here are three observations I would like to share as I reflect on the where and the what of our current situation.
The church really is adaptable.
I have been working with and in churches for almost 3 decades now and I have watched first hand churches of all shapes and sizes thwart change at every turn. In the past 15 years we have seen more technological advancement than the previous 2,000 years combined. Yet the vast majority of churches are still tightly tethered to print technology that is over 500 years old.
But, in the blink of any eye, a global pandemic has forced us into semi-isolation, prohibiting us from gathering in public places, like the church. For years, we have admonished parishioners with the phrase “the church isn’t the building, it’s the people” and placed signs at the exits reading “you are now entering the mission field.” In mid-march, both those platitudes became true in a way that most of us could never have imagined.
Over the past 3 weeks, I have watched (and helped) churches enter into an online world that was foreign to them using tools and technology that they thought was beyond their reach. I have seen errors and bloopers as churches scaled the learning curve, but what I have experienced has been a genuine authenticity that most pastors outgrow soon after seminary. You see, your congregation doesn’t expect Hollywood-quality production or Real Housewives level of drama; they want your best effort to continue sharing Jesus’ Gospel into a world that desperately needs hope.
And, despite your deepest desires to “get back to normal,” I am here to tell you that ship has sailed. We are in the midst of creating a new norm for how the Church engages with it’s congregation and community. I am not suggesting we will be exclusively on-line entities after the quarantines are lifted, but I am saying we have to continue to use the tools and technologies available to us to reach a world that is changing faster than ever in the history of humankind.
I implore you as pastors and church leaders to start right now thinking beyond the COVID-19 crisis and begin envisioning what your church will look like going forward. We need to be asking questions like what are our staffing needs and how do we allocate our resources to live into our new norm. Today is the day to come to terms with the fact that the future is here and to find the courage to continue leading your church through change. The past three weeks have shown us that our churches are resilient; our job now is to cast a refreshed vision for the future.
People crave community.
I have both introverted and extroverted tendencies, which probably makes me a socio-path (but I’m not a doctor, so…). I really enjoy my alone times, but I truly crave interaction with people in groups that I enjoy. Millions of us are struggling with the confinement of social distancing as it inhibits our ability to interact with others.
The most popular communication app right now is called Zoom. It’s a video meeting software that facilitates our ability to interact online with people in many different locations. It’s been around for several years as a business tool, but it is quickly becoming the go-to app for church small groups to continue meeting and teaching. Millions of church people are “jumping on a Zoom” to check in with their group, attend a Bible Study, or join a church meeting.
What has this “new discovery” meant to people in these days of COVID-19? Here’s an example. My life group has been together for over 10 years and our normal rhythm for face-to-face gathering is about every other week. In the past three weeks as we “jumped on Zoom,” we have not only met weekly, but we have interacted multiple times during the week to have social talks and “happy hours” as we ride out the storm of the Coronavirus.
What changed for our group? I mean, I have been a Zoom customer for 6 years and the rest of my group is very tech-savvy. The current environment of self-isolation has intensified our craving for community, but it has also alleviated the assumption that we have to breathe the same air for it to count as community. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t wait for us to get back together after the fog lifts and share a bunch of hugs, but I am also excited that maybe we can stay connected more regularly. We can avoid rescheduling meetings because half the group is traveling and stay more connected, more regularly as a result.
Teach your people how to use new tools to stay connected. Post a tutorial on your website and Facebook teaching them how to use Zoom or Skype or whatever. Give them permission to be the church whether it’s online, in person, or around the world. Help your teachers become video facilitators for their classes. Your people are craving community, now more than ever.
The world still/always needs Jesus.
On Sunday, March 22, 2020, the church broke the internet. Live streaming service providers all over the country experienced outages and disruptions of service. Even Facebook hiccupped trying to digest the increased amount of live video traffic. The Church Online platform that creates online campuses for churches to host live, online worship has seen 15,000 new churches sign up for their service in the past two weeks!
For me, this is a clear indication that people are still seeking Jesus for hope and healing and the local church is the conduit for bringing the Gospel to the world. I am energized by the commitment that congregations have demonstrated in recent weeks to find new ways to continue bringing the Gospel to people even when our physical doors are locked. It is exciting to see churches take a lead role in their communities to ensure that all their neighbors are being cared for and checked on during this crisis.
I have been helping the churches I work with embark on their “new norm” going forward. And it’s more than changing how we deliver the Gospel or ways to stay more connected as a community. We will be forced to address new financial realities, how we manage our physical and human resources, and even dealing with the mental and emotional fallout from social isolation. My prayer for you as a leader today is that you will be granted the energy, the passion, the discipline, and the courage to address these hard questions and guide your churches into our “new normal” Amen!